Icy Road Safety.com - Prepare for Weather's Most Underrated Hazard
                Thursday, January 30, 2014 - 11:46AM CST

Report: Major winter storm in the Deep South, 1/28

By DAN ROBINSON
Storm Chaser/Photographer
RSS/XML feed
Twitter feed
Dan's Google Plus page
Dan's YouTube Video Channel

I returned home Wednesday from another long trip to cover the January 28 winter storm in the South. Like the Texas event, this was a very high-impact, high-threat event due to the region of the country it was taking place in. The most significant impacts were in the Atlanta and Birmingham areas. As with the Texas trip, I learned more valuable details about southern US icy roads.

Documenting the event

I traveled to Montgomery, Alabama on Monday afternoon, and spent two nights in hotels in the city. On Tuesday (during the height of the storm) I observed the effects of freezing rain while moving east to Columbus, Georgia. Bridges iced rapidly in the morning in the Montgomery metro area, and caused numerous accidents. Bridges were slow to ice to the east, and authorities were applying brine and sand to many potential trouble spots. I then returned to Montgomery later that night as the changeover to snow occurred. All roads quickly became covered, and a sheet of compacted ice formed. I originally had planned to leave the area on Tuesday night, but the road conditions were too dangerous. I was finally able to exit the storm zone on Wednesday morning by traveling due west to Demopolis, AL, then north to Tupelo, MS.

Preliminary thoughts

The impacts from this storm were remarkable. My take on what occurred in Birmingham and Atlanta is this:
  • One, very light winter precipitation events suffer from perception-versus-reality problems nationwide, not just in the southern US. The light events (as little as trace/dusting) tend to be the highest impact ones, they happen many times during the winter, and result in the bulk of fatal crashes in the US. Most events don't make headlines like the more acutely extreme ones do (as in this case). Case in point, we had a 49-fatality light freezing rain event December 23-24, 2008 across the Midwest that barely made headlines (32 fatal crashes on the 23rd alone). Sub-warning criteria light freezing rain also has shut down or severely impacted the St. Louis and Pittsburgh metro areas in recent years.

    'Dustings' of snow routinely cause the worst serious/fatal accident rates of all events in large metro areas in the Midwest and Northeast US. Again, this is a perception problem - light events are seen as 'not that bad' by the public and meteorologists alike. I believe this perception may have contributed to authorities not acting on the forecasted conditions in the areas affected by the worst of the storm.
     

  • Two, the southern US has a 'skeleton crew' of de-icing infrastructure. Their current supplies and equipment are only capable of spot-treating small areas with sand (bridges and steep hills), and salt/brine is rarely available in meaningful quantities. Without external help, their infrastructure is hopelessly overwhelmed when the icing spreads beyond bridges.
What I hope comes out of the January 28th storm is a shift in the perception of the lighter winter precipitation events, and possibly notching up the wording and planning for these in terms of their potential impacts. I don't see anyone in particular as being to blame for this recent disaster. Forecasters did their jobs and issued the appropriate products. The light events have traditionally never been thought of in this way by most authorities or the public. A shift in thinking regarding the light winter precip events will help not only future storms in the south, but the ones that impact the rest of the country.

Images

A multi-car pileup occured right in the middle of this scene outside of Prattville/Montgomery, Alabama on Tuesday morning, about 5 minutes after I turned the camera on another bridge nearby. Police had been slowing drivers at the other end, and it appeared everyone was heeding the warning. Apparently not! That was the only chance I had to capture anything compelling during this trip. There were no other safe places I could find to stop and film. You can see that accidents already had happened on the other bridge.

Icy bridge in Prattville/Montgomery Alabama

I came across this stuck 18 wheeler on the way home near Selma, Alabama. There were patches of slick spots like this all over the region. It was worse in the Birmingham/Tuscaloosa region, where like Atlanta, all roads were covered and impassable.

Icy roads in Alabama

The following comments were posted before this site switched to a new comment system on August 27, 2016:

Recent Blog Posts
- High-impact freezing rain/drizzle road icing event from Oklahoma to the East Coast - December 20, 2016
- New educational winter driving videos released, more planned - November 21, 2016
- "Icezilla" freezing rain disaster in the northeast US - January 19, 2015
- December 30-January 2 Oklahoma/Texas icing event sequence - January 2, 2015
- Freezing rain disaster - November 22, 2014 - November 23, 2014
- Report: Major winter storm in the Deep South, 1/28 - January 30, 2014
- Report: High Risk road icing event in south Texas/Louisiana - January 26, 2014
- Winter tires: not the solution for preventing icy crashes - December 13, 2013
- Preliminary low estimate of December 3-8 toll - December 9, 2013
- The Top 7 Icy Road Myths - December 6, 2013
- Aren't icy road crashes caused by driving too fast for conditions, not ice and snow? - November 14, 2012
- Road icing news for January-February 2012 - February 25, 2012
- Commentary on the recent viral WV pileup video - January 8, 2012
- Significant road icing outbreak: Monday, January 2, 2012 - January 2, 2012
- No vehicle can safely go highway speeds on icy roads - December 23, 2011
- Another case for "Road Ice Warnings": December 8-9, 2011 light snow event - December 10, 2011
- A big thanks to those helping raise road icing awareness - November 18, 2011
- 15 road icing deaths in the past week: estimating the full impact - November 4, 2011
- 2011-2012 road ice season in the US already in full swing - October 22, 2011
- Coming this winter: another 2011 tornado season toll - July 21, 2011

Past Blog Archives
- April 2010 - January 2011 posts
- December 2009 - March 2010 posts
- November 2009 posts
- October 2009 posts
- March-April 2009 posts
- February 2009 posts
- January 2009 posts
- December 2008 posts

Educational Winter Driving Videos - Watch for Free:

Video: How to correct a slide on an icy road (and how to prevent them)Video: Icy Bridges: Weather's underrated killerVideo: Deadliest Weather: Freezing Rain

Home | Risk | Stats | Accident Video | Icy Bridges | Tips | Warning Signs | If You Slide | If You Wreck

458
Deaths in the US
from icy roads
2009-2010 winter
[ More Statistics ]

477
Deaths in the US
from icy roads
2008-2009 winter
[ More Statistics ]

All content © Dan Robinson. All usage requires a paid license - please contact Dan for inquiries.

Web Site Design and Internet Marketing by CIS Internet